Despite dreams of flying cars and teleporter beams, it turns out life in the future really means spending a lot of time in front of screens. Yes, it’s amazing and convenient to carry a supercomputer and a camera in your pocket at all times. But we’ve developed an unhealthy relationship with our digital devices. And that was even before we started “self-isolating” for our own good.
The temptation to obsessively read the news or binge watch TV series all day can be overwhelming. But this screen-heavy indoor time may take a toll on your physical and mental wellbeing. Take a deep breath and remember some of the benefits of unplugging and going outdoors.
Uncertainty and anxiety combine to form a toxic stress cocktail. But the great outdoors offers a natural remedy for stress. Science shows green spaces lower our physical stress response and increase our mental well-being. The bottom line is that we’re hard-wired to relax and calm down in nature. The more natural the area, the greater the benefit. Taking a walk to a park can help you hit the reset button, but if all you have at your disposal is a patio or yard, that works as well. The goal: Breathe fresh air, feast your eyes on green, and feel your blood pressure drop.
Stepping outside into a natural environment gives you a memory boost. Walking out in nature for just 20 minutes is enough to improve test performance. And while the theory explaining this is science, it is known as ART: Attention Restoration Theory. The idea is that in a bustling urban or environment, our attention is constantly involved in a tug-of-war over where it should be focused. But when you step into nature, our attention is less directed, and that part of our brains gets a rest. Think of it as a reboot for your brain.
Immune System Boost
A 2013 Japanese study demonstrates time spent walking in the forest can boost the immune system. We know time spent in nature reduces stress, and stress hormones can negatively impact the immune system. But this study took it a bit further. After two days of hiking, doctors tested the white blood cell counts of the hikers. The cells that help a body fight off infection increased by 40%, and they remained 15% higher a month later. Even a one-day trip to a park was enough to boost white blood cells for a week. The bottom line? Stepping away from the screen and out into nature is a prescription for improving your resistance to illness. Best of all, the only side effects are a better memory and lower stress levels? Yes, please!
If you’ve ever met a gardener who seemed inexplicably happy about homegrown produce, there may be an explanation. Its name is Mycobacterium vaccae, and it’s a naturally occurring soil microbe. Studies indicate exposure to these bacteria results in lower stress levels and increased production of serotonin. That’s the same mood-regulating brain chemical that Prozac targets. So, even if your thumb is brown, digging in the garden is bound to have a beneficial effect.
So despite the wonderful world of snarky memes and hilarious cat videos, there is life beyond the screen. If you feel overwhelmed, scatterbrained, sad, or weary, take a minute to unplug. Head outside and take a walk. See if it isn’t just what the doctor ordered.
Dominic Wojcik is a man with twin passions, for fitness and the outdoors. He has been writing about both for two decades.